Mastodon are one of the biggest bands in modern heavy music. It’s impossible to not be aware of the band’s greatness; whether you’re a casual metal head or a metal head who mostly listens to the underground, the Atlanta, Georgia metal act is one of those few bands with an appeal that stretches across multiple levels of metal fandom.
This month, a new Mastodon tour kicks off; Mastodon will be hitting the road with none other than Opeth and Khemmis. In honor of this awesome tour, as well as the band’s studio debut Remission turning 20 this year, we decided to take on a fun (yet challenging) assignment: To rank each Mastodon album from worst to best.
Now before you fire away at your keyboards – we personally don’t think there are any “bad” Mastodon albums. If anything, there are those albums in the band’s discography that are a little more lackluster compared to other records. While any albums ranked among the lower tiers may not be the best of the best when it comes to the band, those albums still have something positive and important to offer. Please also note, this ranking only includes the studio album releases from the band.
We sat down with the entire studio album discography of Mastodon, analyzing each one to put this list together. This ranking is to display which of Mastodon’s albums stand the test of time best, what each album offers in artistic expression, and how each best represents Mastodon. Ultimately, we wanted to create a ranking that displays the best of Mastodon’s artistry and how they’ve grown as a band. This is of course our own personal ranking, so if your ranking is different than ours, shout off in the comments and let us know your picks!
Without further ado – here is our ranking of Mastodon albums!
8. The Hunter
By no means are we calling The Hunter a bad album – to the contrary, it is a record with some solid cuts to it. The thing about The Hunter is what it represents for Mastodon, and specifically, the greater shift that the band were to take in their overall style and sound. Prior to The Hunter‘s release, Mastodon used to be a more sludgy, thrashy sounding band; The Hunter marks the band’s great shift towards – dare we say – more radio friendly rock/metal.
This isn’t a bad thing, but The Hunter finds itself in a weird place because of this. Not only was it the album to come after 2009’s Crack The Skye (by far one of the most progressive records in the Mastodon discography), but it is also the least defined in terms of the new Mastodon sound. As the band would perfect their new direction with each following album, The Hunter makes for a relatively messy work; one where you can hear promise, but the band are still working out a new sound.
With Mastodon having formed in 2000, the band would release Remission in 2002. As a studio album debut – Remission is an absolute banger. A thrashy, sludgy work with crushing riffs that exude exhilarating vibes. This is the sort of debut that holds nothing back and displays the tremendous promise that Mastodon would only continue to deliver upon throughout their career. Placing it this far down is not meant to show any disrespect; actually, Remission is really the root of all the other great Mastodon music that would come to be. When you look to many of the Mastodon records that shine brightest, you can trace many of their strong qualities to that of Remission. Unlike The Hunter, which is striving to figure out its sonic focus, Remission is bold and forward – it is clear in its direction.
6. Blood Mountain
Following up that of the fan beloved Leviathan, Blood Mountain had a lot to live up too – and it delivers quite well. Blood Mountain is a greater extension of the band’s technical prowess – a brilliant quality that had a stronger debut on 2004’s Leviathan. There are no major faults to Blood Mountain; however, in comparison to Leviathan though, it does sound like more of the same. With riveting, frantic sounding instrumentation that also offers a killer sludge metal tone, Blood Mountain proves to be a theatrical work of heaviness. That said, it would be after Blood Mountain where the band would begin to expand and experiment further with their artistry.
5. Once More ‘Round The Sun
Remember what we said earlier about The Hunter? Well, Once More ‘Round The Sun is that stronger, more defined direction that we were talking about. Here is where the band begin to start weaving together the musical traits of their past with the new rock elements they are embracing. There isn’t a ton of their past sludge sound here, but the band still include some stoner vibes throughout the album. Once More ‘Round The Sun is much more confident sounding when it comes to its writing; there is no jarring dissonance regarding the band’s approach to style – what the band once was is not conflicting with them striving to push into new territory. The band would only continue to grow in this new form of presentation, with two albums that would come later and would build upon the success of Once More ‘Round The Sun.
4. Hushed And Grim
One of those albums is the band’s latest studio record, Hushed And Grim. This album marks an interesting point for the band; it obviously continues the direction that was established in 2011’s The Hunter – displaying the band’s sense of rock and roll play – but, it also taps into the more progressive experimentation that was first heard on Leviathan and Crack The Skye. By no means does the record have overwhelming similarities with those two older albums, but Hushed And Grim is one of the newer Mastodon albums to take things further back. This isn’t the first case of the band doing this however; frankly, the album that came before Hushed And Grim (2017’s Emperor of Sand), did this in a much stronger way. That said, it is impressive and intriguing to hear the band now weave in those stronger progressive and technical elements of the past. In some ways, the album sort of reminds us of The Hunter – specifically in how much it is juggling at times (though, we’d argue the quality is much higher and the technical work is not as all over the place). Hushed And Grim is an album that has us excited for what the band have in-store next.
Okay so some of you might not be super pleased with this one, given that Leviathan is considered to be the fan favorite among many. Released in 2004, and as the follow up to the band’s studio debut Remission – Leviathan is an absolute beast of musical ferocity. In elevating the instrumental chaos displayed on Remission, Mastodon shows off a refined take on their artistry, one that still crushed ear drums, but provided a new layer to the Mastodon presentation. Leviathan was the band’s first great display of theatrical presence as well; while not every Mastodon album provides some sort of narrative concept working its way through the music, a great quality among the band’s material is its at times adventurous, almost epic approach to narrative direction. Pulling inspiration from the likes of Herman Melville’s 1851 classic novel Moby Dick, Leviathan is packed with thematic grandiosity. Along with this new quality, the band also provide a stunning work of technical finesse; intricate riffs, flows, and time signature arrangements that would (and still to this day), captivate the minds of music listeners. Leviathan not only stands as one of the best Mastodon albums of today, but it is also a reminder of sorts regarding what Mastodon used to be. We don’t mean that in terms of quality, but specifically the level of heaviness. Traits of the band’s sludge and aggressive sound can still be heard today – but the band hasn’t made that much of a pounce since Leviathan. Maybe on their next album they’ll return to that sludgy chaos.
2. Crack The Skye
What makes Crack The Skye so fascinating is that Mastodon have never really made anything else like this record. They’ve made albums before and after that provide qualities found on Crack The Skye, but nothing that is so rich in meditative atmosphere. Crack The Skye is one of those albums that is deceptively heavy; while it certainly does include stereotypical levels of sonic heaviness, it dwells much deeper into emotional impact. Its use of musical flow and technical construction weave together a mesmerizing presentation of contrasting duality; one that is both light and welcoming, but also abrasive at times and angry. Yet through and through, this is a Mastodon album that is a work of meditative intrigue. You can also start to hear a small semblance of the rock direction the band would end up striving to play around more with in their follow up LP, The Hunter. But coming off of Blood Mountain, and especially Leviathan – the presentation of Crack The Skye is almost jarring. It takes a moment to settle in, but once you find yourself among the work, it has a hold of you. You eventually find yourself picking up this surreal array of tones, technical flavor and structure, your mind diving deeper into the work – experiencing a journey rather than just head banging along to songs.
But as much as we love Crack The Skye, it isn’t the best Mastodon album. No, that would have to go to:
1. Emperor of Sand
While we do feel that Hushed And Grim offers a great display in how Mastodon blends both familiar and new sonic qualities from throughout their history, 2017’s Emperor of Sand has to be the most defined example of that. When you look back to what the band did with Leviathan and Crack The Skye, and then you look to Once More ‘Round The Sun – this is the strongest fusion of everything Mastodon has ever done. 2011’s The Hunter is a clear (if not messy) statement that the band wanted to take their careers down a different musical path. As a band pushing themselves into that new musical path – in striving to expand upon their sound and play with rock that flows and creates atmosphere – Emperor of Sand is a testament to the new and great Mastodon of today. Along with a rock and metal sound that sounds fun, the band continue to deliver captivating atmosphere and emotional depth throughout the album’s playtime. Emperor of Sand is one of those albums that is also deceptively heavy; it does not pack the sonic punch that Leviathan offered, but instead, it sweeps you into a majestic and fantastical world that pulls at the heart strings. Considering where Mastodon started and where they are now with Hushed And Grim, we feel Emperor of Sand represents the best of Mastodon. It is every quality that longtime fans know of the band, while also elevating the Mastodon legacy that is creating heavy and epic music.
So that’s our ranking of the Mastodon albums! How much do you agree or disagree with our ranking? What is your ranking of the Mastodon albums? Make sure to catch the upcoming Mastodon tour with Opeth and Khemmis, as shows kick off this Month!
Words by: Michael Pementel